FBI Who?

Siri listens in on an iPhone. 

It’s no rumor, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) does monitor technology. But they aren’t necessarily watching yours.

Over 96 percent of American’s have some kind of technology according to the Pew Research Center. That is around 300 million phones alone, not accounting for computers, iPads, tablets and home technologies. That is countless numbers of screens being used 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

While it has been proven that the FBI does monitor our technology, it’s debatable on whether or not it is good or bad. Many have seen at least one episode of Criminal Minds and while it is a television show, it brings up a provoking thought. While their fast hacking agent Penelope Garcia often uses her skills to research and find criminals, she also uses it to save people.

“We know they (FBI) do,” junior computer science major Joey Moore said. “Anything that is plain text, if you don’t see the https in your web traffic when you are using it, it is definitely being monitored.”

With all of these screens and technology that no one can seem to live without, the FBI can’t possibly monitor every screen at all times. They have systems in place to red flag suspicious behavior that may be a concern on national security. The FBI doesn’t necessarily care if you blow your entire paycheck on shoes during an online sale.

It’s not just on the FBI though.

Part of this “breach of trust” is on technology owners. Anytime someone clicks past the terms of use, gives access for an app to use their camera or microphone or allows for a website to use their cookies just to get the pop-up to go away without reading the fine print, that person allows for anything that those documents say.

“I’m sure it’s covered in their privacy policy. But that is another tricky situation,” Moore said. “Facebook has been caught several times, the Facebook app sniffs your device and sees what other apps you use and how much you use them and figure(s) out how to draw you into Facebook more. And I think that is covered in their privacy policy but it isn’t openly disclosed.”

Recently, a large area of concern has been home technologies such as Amazon Echo and Google Home recording audio in consumers’ homes without their knowledge.

In 2017, a New Hampshire judge ordered for Amazon to turn over recordings from an Echo that was in the home of a double murder. While Amazon tried to refuse turning over the audio, the megacompany fell to a court order. Police and prosecutors typically don’t expect much evidence from Echo recordings. Usually because Echo speakers are activated with a wake word, usually “Alexa,” the name of the voice assistant. However, fragments of recordings can sometimes be inadvertently picked up, which could help piece together events from a crime scene.

Although it may not be ethical or arguably constitutional for websites to monitor our data, it does often times come in handy for them for marketing reasons. Hypothetically, a user scrolls through Instagram and likes an advertisement selling a bracelet and then sees ten more advertisements of the same or similar products on multiple different websites. When signing up for an Instagram account, the user agrees to Instagram’s Terms of Service, which allows for the social media platform to use the user’s cookies which is how advertisers can redirect them to other websites through sponsored ads and accounts to follow.

“After 9/11, we (America) passed the Patriot Act, which gave the FBI and any other federal agency that deals with national security the right to monitor what we are doing in hopes of trying to prevent another terrorist attack,” Sophomore criminal justice major Carson Durham said. “But I think it is beneficial. People are like, ‘Oh, they are invading my space,’ but without it we’d be a little screwed.”

For the average person, there really isn’t a reason to be paranoid. The FBI isn’t watching every screen in someone’s life unless they have done something to raise the red flags. However, it is always better to remain safe than sorry. Read the terms and conditions, use sites that have good cyber security and check the settings on your in home devices so you know when they are recording.

Society is going to continue to move forward with technology and with that comes new advances in crime using technology. At the end of the day, I would rather they watch my technology if that means they have the potential to get ahead of someone planning on doing something bad.

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